A vote for a better focus

Quebec LogosAt its onset, the 2014 Quebec Election was about the Charter. In announcing the election, Pauline Marois exclaimed, “Nous ferons adopter une charte qui affirme les valeurs québécoises de l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes et de laïcité. Nous le ferons!” (translated: “We will adopt a charter which affirms the Quebec values ​​of equality between men and women and secularism. We will do it!”). Looking back now, it may be easy to dismiss Marois’ election call as audacious, even foolish. At the time however, even if you disagreed with the policy, the political move appeared astute nonetheless. Though a surprise to many observers outside the province, the charter continued to show strong support in Quebec. In January, polls suggested the Charter had 48% support across the province, a result that coincided with the PQ’s 36% to 32% lead over the Liberals. Though not a large lead, given the Liberals concentrated support in urban ridings, it put the PQ well in reach of a majority government. Gaining a majority would give the PQ the mandate to implement the Charter, and in turn, take a significant step towards sovereignty somewhere down the line. And yet – that is not at all how it played out. Though we are now assured of four plus years of no charter and no referendum, we are still left pondering over the future of the sovereignty movement, and the Parti Québécois itself. In contemplating this future, it is worthwhile taking a closer look at exactly what did happen during the election. In particular, what were the views of the voters themselves? What were their concerns? What swayed their vote one way or another? A better understanding of the views of the people of Quebec is what will lead to understanding the future of the province.

Given the lead they had going into the campaign, it is understandable that observers would be looking for a turning point that changed the tide of the election. Though in other instances it may be difficult to positively identify such a defining moment, it appears almost unanimous in this case. It was the introduction of Pierre Karl Péladeau as a star candidate for the PQ. For those outside of Quebec, Pierre Karl Péladeau is the heir of media giant Quebecor, and has served as its President and CEO. PKP, as he is often referred to in the province, is a polarizing figure in Quebec – a fervent nationalist and successful businessman who has been known for his tough tactics in negotiating with unions (notably in the 2009 lockout at the Journal de Montreal). The impact of his entrance appears to have been two-pronged. For one, his anti-union record and right-wing leaning appeared at odds with the PQ’s social democratic core. More importantly, it was his spirited cry for sovereignty as he made his campaign announcement that made it a key election issue: “Je m’engage au Parti québécois parce que j’ai la conviction extrêmement profonde de faire du Québec un pays” (translation: “”I am committed to the Parti Québécois because I have extremely deep conviction to make Quebec a country”). There was no question as to what was top of mind for Péladeau, and it was his presence that shifted the focus of the campaign. Once focused on the Charter, the spectre of an imminent sovereignty referendum now seized the PQ campaign.

Though there was solid support for the Charter, the emergence of the sovereignty issue brought to the forefront the question of just how far the PQ would take it. At the onset of the election, James Mennie of the Gazette aptly asked, “values charter support: miles wide, but how deep?”  We look to the polls to find an answer to that particular question. In a Globe and Mail – Léger poll conducted in mid-March (immediately following Péladeau’s introduction), respondents were asked what they wanted to hear about during the campaign. The pressing issues identified were, in order, the economy and job creation, health, and public finances. On the other hand, the charter of values and sovereignty were seen as less important (27% and 20% wanted to hear more about these issues, respectively, while 63 and 69% wanted to hear less about them).  A snippet of an Ipsos poll conducted just prior to the election (see below) further reinforces just how far down the priority list you have to go to find both the Charter and sovereignty issues. With only 2% seeing sovereignty as either their first or second priority, it was clear that putting it front and centre did not inspire the electorate. Adding the paradox of bringing Péladeau and his fiscally conservative views into the fold, must have further confused, and unnerved, the party’s supporters.


Top Priority

Second Priority


Create a better economy and jobs




Provide better healthcare




Ensure debt repayment and balancing budget




Lower taxes




Implement the Charter of Values




A referendum for independence on sovereignty




Priority issues in Quebec (Ipsos Poll Mar 28 – Apr 1, 2014)

With this confluence of an unappealing focus and an uneasy relationship between the premier and her star candidate, it wasn’t difficult for the opposing Liberals to take advantage. In essence, the simple repetition of their campaign slogan, “Ensemble, on s’occupe des vraies affaires” (“Together, we take care of real business”), was pretty much all that was needed. The rest is history. The Liberals drew even in the week following Péladeau’s arrival on the campaign, and finished with a whopping 16 point advantage over the PQ, securing a comfortable majority in the National Assembly (70 of 125 seats).

Where do things go from here? An Ekos poll conducted in the week prior to the election provides some insight into the future of the sovereignty movement. When asked to choose between a completely independent Quebec and the status quo, 65% chose the status quo (a high point for this indicator over the last 20 years).  Also of particular interest are the salient findings with regards to the demographics of the vote (see the graph below). The PQ’s greatest support is found among  45-64 year olds – a demographic that was around for the PQ’s initial rise to power in 1979 and the subsequent sovereignty efforts over the succeeding years. PQ support drops from 32% in this bracket down to 25% among 25-44 year olds and down to 22% among those under 25. Nevertheless, this may not be a trend wholly against the sovereignty movement. Québec Solidaire – who also support sovereignty, though with a different ideology than the PQ – actually have a growing support with the younger demographic. Their trendline along age grows from only 8% support among those 45-64 to 13% among those 25-44, and 15% among those under 25. As Québec Solidaire holds some of its roots in the New Democratic Party of Quebec, it is not a surprise that the orange wave that hit Quebec in the last federal election has had led to some crossover gains for Québec Solidaire provincially. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that though Solidaire holds sovereignist ideals, they are not so fervent as the PQ.  In the poll previously mentioned regarding the choice between an indepedent Quebec and the status quo within Canada, 77% of PQ supporters chose independence, whereas, Solidaire supporters display a 50/50 split between sovereignty and the status quo. As such, should Solidaire ever supplant the PQ as the sovereignist party of choice in Quebec, it’s a wonder what it might take to put a referendum at the top of their political agenda.

EKOS Poll, Apr 2014
EKOS Poll, Apr 2014

Though it is very much premature to suggest that we are at the end to the sovereignty movement in Quebec, it is certainly a more comfortable position we find ourselves in with a federalist party in control of the province for the next 4 years. No referendum is imminent, and the ill-titled Charter of Values has been put to rest (or at least shelved for the foreseeable future). In being a staunch federalist, one that values Quebec’s place within Canada, I am very glad for that. Not only do I value Quebec, but I believe we should all value the right of its diverse people to express their own beliefs free of discrimination and persecution. To turn a phrase oft used by those on the other side … “Vive un Quebec libre!”


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